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The Standing Rock Protests Are A Shocking Return To America's 19th Century Past

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It's December 29th 1890. The defeated Sioux, decimated by battle, forced marches and woeful poverty on tiny reservations, finally capitulate after the massacre at Wounded Knee. From here on resistance on the American plains is quashed. History tells us many reasons why conflict emerged in the American West between the Native Americans and the oncoming Western settlers, but one seems eerily important in the current circumstances, and that is the U.S. governments defence of big business.

As of writing this, it is November 29th 2016. In the Standing Rock Indian reservation, one of the homes to the last remnants of the Sioux tribe, located both in North and South Dakota, a coalition of local tribes people and environmental activists have been protesting the construction of the Dakota access pipeline. The fortune 500 company Energy Transfer Partners, L.P, came up with the plan for the transportation of massive amounts of crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois, across a 1,172-mile-long stretch. This Stretch Crosses Lake Oahe, not only a sacred river of the local Sioux, but a crucial one, being only 10 miles downstream of the water system providing for the major settlement of Fort Yates. It is here in Standing Rock that once again; Sioux resistance has been revived.

The land the Dakota access pipeline is being constructed on is not part of the tribal reservation, despite being exceptionally close. It was in fact ceded by the Sioux in 1851, in a treaty symptomatic of the U.S. governments failure to deal with Native tribes, namely that few Sioux chiefs were involved, and many Sioux were not even aware, let alone in agreement, that their land was being signed away. This however is the legacy of America's past, what is crucial is the continuation of failures like these in Current America.

The incentive to colonise the West, in part, was due to its mass of resources. In the 19th century this was its gold and other valuable metals, which lured many entrepreneurs from the East, but they quickly ran into an unfortunate problem. People were already living above these precious metals, and even worse, they didn't want to move. The vast wealth under the land, however, was well worth the effort, and through fear and cajoling, the United States government was more than willing to help solve the issue. Firstly, by treaty, they would slowly take away slithers of native land, but if the tribe proved difficult to move, like the Nez Perce or the Utes discovered, military force would push them out. It was by these methods that the American government supported enterprise and big business over native peoples and the rights to their ancestral lands.

What is it then that we today can take from this story in the past?

Clearly that little has changed.

When now the Sioux peacefully protest the disruption of sacred lands, (much like the problems the Sioux of the 19th century faced) not to mention the practical issues the Department of the Interior itself has referred to, namely the massive catastrophe that would occur if an oil spill took place so close to the source of water for a major settlement, what does the American government do? It supports big business yet again. Armed, military style police and the national guard have fired water cannons, shot rubber bullets, seriously injuring one woman, and deployed tear gas to clear protesters from camps impeding the pipelines construction.

Whats most shocking, is that this is not the action of a crazed, right wing Republican government. It is taking place under Obama's Democratic one. The man who pledged to rekindle hope, to bring about true change, is letting the past relive itself. Is it any wonder so many Americans are angry at the establishment? They all should be, because both the parties serve only one master.

Standing Rock shows us this. At the basic level, that big business has been and still is more important than native people's rights and safety in the United States. At its furthest extent, it shows us the astonishing influence money has within the American political system. It is this that history illuminates like nothing else can.

If anything will ever change in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave must take a hard look into the mirror, and a long look at the past.

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